Dennie was one of my very favorite people ever. I was SO lucky in the in-law department. She called herself "the mother person," and after awhile, so did we all. I'd answer the ringing phone and hear from the other end, "It's just the mother person."
Dennie was fun and funny. She was nice, but not in a sickly sweet way, and not if you weren't nice to the people she liked, loved, and cared about. In fact, one of Jim's nasty aunts (well, I guess it's really his ONLY aunt) said bad things about me to her after we had spent a BUNCH of hours in a car together, and Dennie told that she was hanging up the phone and didn't walk to talk to her again until she could talk nicely. Thing is that most of the bad things his aunt said about me that day were true.
Dennie had a great smile and wonderful laugh, and she was a hugger. One of her frequent phrases was about hugging. She'd say, when we got ready to hang up from a phone conversation, "Hug the boy's neck for me" -- meaning Jim. Or if I said something by phone that she particularly liked, she'd say, "I just want to hug your neck!"
And she meant it! She hugged everybody. Often.
When Jim's nephew Grant was killed in Afghanistan, there was a service for him and two other guys at Fort Carson. After the service, there was a receiving line of family members, and the soldiers in attendance came through the line on their way out. There were probably 150 of them. She was at the front of the receiving line, and she hugged each and every one of them. Well, since the line started out with hugs instead of handshakes, that meant WE all hugged every one of them. But the thing was? It did feel right. It was comforting to hug them and be hugged. If someone else were at the front of the line, though, I'll bet we wouldn't have had that.
My sister Kristi and I have a history of laughing hard. We've been kicked out of places because we just couldn't stop laughing. For example, one time we were at Woolworths (do you remember Woolworths?) We tried on wigs and laughed. We looked at products and laughed. Then we were walking down the cleaning aisle and it smelled of mothballs. I said, "Have you ever smelled mothballs before?" and she said of course she had, and I asked her how she got their little legs apart. We laughed so hard I thought we were going to pee, then we were told to leave. And yes -- we were adults, not kids, at the time. We'd laugh so hard that we couldn't breathe, then we'd try to say, "I-can't-breathe-I-can't-breathe-I-can't-breathe-I-can't-breathe-I-can't-breathe. . .," in a high-pitched, oxygen-deprived voice while laughing, until we could finally recover enough to actually breathe.
Anyway, I tell you that as a gauge to how hard we laugh on a regular basis. But one time Dennie and I laughed so hard that it surpassed the mothball incident.
We were at a convention together, Jim, me, and his parents. After dinner, Jim and his dad were "off gallyvanting" (as Dennie would say), and she and I went back to the room. We were just going to sit on the beds and watch TV or talk. She was a tall person, and simply got on the bed and sat back against the pillows. I am much shorter, and had to generally take a running leap (if you could call it that) to launch myself up onto the tall bed. I'd been doing it for two days, but on this particular evening, I just couldn't do it. Each time I would try, the slickness of the bedspread and the slickness of my skirt conspired against me, and I'd just slide back off to have to try again. Pretty soon it was to the point that it was ridiculous, and we started laughing and couldn't stop. We laughed SO hard, and I could do nothing but hang on to the edge of the bed, half on, half off, and laugh. Well, that's when the guys came in, and we couldn't stop laughing long enough to even tell them why. Jim snapped pictures of us, which made it even more ridiculous. That was the hardest I ever laughed in my life, and I was glad it was that way.
Jim's dad made me a whole bunch of .38 caliber wax bullets, so that I could "practice shooting in the house." He even went so far as to make them from vanilla scented wax so they were more feminine. He was completely serious, and took me to his basement to his shooting range (a plywood board propped up against the wall on some milk crates) to try them out. I totally thought he was kidding.
He was not.
After I shot a bunch of them, I went back upstairs to visit with Dennie, and she just looked at me with a straightface and said, "I'll bet you never even KNEW you needed to practice shooting in the house!" We burst out laughing.
Truly? The wax bullets were a thoughtful thing and one of the best gifts I ever received. Not because I needed to practice shooting in the house, but because my father-in-law loved me enough to think of me, think of my safety, and think of something he could make me that would show that. He was, as you may have guessed, also one of my favorite people.
I miss them both a lot.
The good news is that Jim has the best qualities of them both, and I am very lucky to have him as my person.
What I wouldn't give to pick up the phone and hear, "It's just the mother person."